An Historic Floorcloth Reproduction

One of the oldest existing floorcloths in the US can be found at Melrose, a suburban estate in Natchez, Mississippi, constructed in 1848.  Melrose was built by a wealthy attorney and cotton planter and was home to his family and 22 enslaved people who lived and worked there. Recognized as a National Historic Landmark, the main house on the estate has been called "One of the Great Houses of the American South." The estate is recognized not only for the high quality and finishes of the Greek Revival mansion and intact grouping of outbuildings, but also for the collection of 19th century original furnishings that have been well maintained and preserved over the years.  In 1990, the National Park Service acquired the estate and opened it to the public to interpret the daily lives of the Southern planter class and the enslaved persons that powered the cotton-based economy of Mississippi at the time.

Melrose, c.1848

Ariel Grace Design was contracted in August of 2022 to replicate the entry floorcloth at Melrose.  The original floorcloth had been painted over in the 1970s by a decorative painter, and then a floorcloth was commissioned in the 1990s but was a poor replica and in failing condition.  This image is a close up of a section of the original floorcloth with the 1970s overpainting partially removed to reveal the actual pattern.  This is all of the original floorcloth we were able to see to recreate the pattern. 

Original Floorcloth with some overpainting.

This is a photo of the 1990s floorcloth that we replaced:

 Replica floorcloth c.1990

The floorcloth design is a repeating diamond pattern, that contains a border with an Early American style lozenge and honeycomb display, surrounding an organic medallion.  The colorway is reversed on every other diamond.

We spent months working to create stencils that would allow us to produce a design that is extremely faithful to the original with all of its organic sensibility, including rough edged lines and imperfect shapes.  We went back and forth with the park personnel until we had nailed every detail.  Eleven stencils were required to reproduce the design:

Melrose Custom Stencils

 When we received the stencils we made a sample that is approximately 17” x 34” and shows a full repeat of the pattern in the two colorways:

Melrose sample. 

Following sample approval, we started floorcloth production.  The finished size of the floorcloth is approximately 15’ x 23’.  Our floorcloth substrate is a high-quality Cotton Duck #4 canvas weighing 24 oz/square yard. This canvas is sourced in maximum widths of 10’.  We use a double layer of canvas for floorcloths wider than 10’ in order to produce a nearly seamless result. In this case, the top layer of canvas included a 10’ strip and a 5’ strip as did the bottom layer.  The bottom pieces of canvas were primed, front and back. The top pieces were primed on the underside, gessoed twice on the top side and sanded in between coats. A laminating glue was applied to the inside of all canvas sheets, and they were placed in a shiplap fashion, creating two solid layers of canvas, with flush seams where they meet.  The join on the top layer is on the opposite side of the join on the bottom layer. The canvas was pressed together and allowed to bond. The seams were caulked and smoothed.

Four layers of Benjamin Moore paint was applied to the top surface and sanded between coats.  The design was hand stenciled using the custom stencils made for this project. The design is protected by six layers of Benjamin Moore acrylic polyurethane applied with an airless sprayer. Wax was applied as a final, protective coating.  It took six fully dedicated weeks to produce the floorcloth.  Here are some production photos:

This photo shows the laminating glue being applied to the top and bottom floorcloth layers, enabling the creation of a contiguous sheet that was 15’ wide by 23’ long.

Creating a 15' wide canvas base. 

This photo shows the completed 15 x 23’ sheet which has been thoroughly rolled with a 100 lb linoleum roller.

15' x 23' canvas base.

This photo shows the application of the first of 11 stencils used to create the design.

Application of first stencil. 

This image shows a close up of the seam.

Nearly invisible seam.

 These photos are close ups of the dark grey and cream diamonds.

Close up of dark grey diamond.

 Close up of white diamond. 

A photo of the finished floorcloth:

Photo of completed floorcloth. 

The floorcloth was wrapped around a 16” diameter concrete forming tube and inserted in an 18” concrete forming tube for shipping.  Wooden end caps were screwed into the ends of the tube:

Floorcloth being rolled around a 16" diameter concrete forming tube.

 Loaded on the truck.

Here are a few images of the floorcloth installation.  First, the 1990s floorcloth was removed, exposing the original floorcloth with its overpainting:

Overpainted floorcloth

 A layer of tyvec was installed between the old and new floorcloth acting as a protective layer:

Tyvec layer.

 The old replacement floorcloth was used as a template to cut the new floorcloth into the approximate shape of the room and then it was laid on top of the tyvec and trimmed to the baseboards in place:

Installation of Melrose floorcloth

And finally, the floorcloth was installed:

Melrose Floorcloth Installed